For more than a month, friends and strangers have been doing whatever they can to help support Jim Simonis and his family.
And it means more than he can possibly put into words.
But each time a stranger displays a random act of kindness, or a friend organizes an event to help the family, it is also another sobering reminder of reality.
“While we obviously are so thankful, we can hardly bear it,” Simonis said. “It’s a reminder that you’re not going to wake up. We all kind of hope we’re going to wake up from this, and it really reminds you that you’re not going to.”
It has been just over a month since Simonis’ two children, Caleb and Shelby, were killed in a two-car crash on Highway 228. His youngest daughter, Kylee, was also in the vehicle and sustained serious injuries.
She is recovering now, and on Saturday, the community rallied to support her. Family friends organized a drive-through event at Central Linn High School, where Kylee, 15, attends school, with the idea of gathering a large group to share love and support.
For an hour and half, community members drove a loop through the school parking lot around Kylee and her family and delivered cards, flowers, and kind words.
“The community coming out has been great, Kylee feels that support,” Jim Simonis said. “But it’s hard. Her brother and sister died and now all of a sudden everybody wants to be nice to her. Sometimes she feels as though that’s some sort of a weird prize. But she understands, we all understand.”
The event was organized by Lovica Johnson, a family friend and a parent volunteer at the school, and Kathy Smith, the agriculture teacher at Central Linn High. Working around social distancing standards made it difficult to congregate everybody in one place, but they collaborated with other members of the community to work around the challenge.
“This event ... it allows family and friends an opportunity to all come together in one place at one time to show Kylee how much she is loved,” Johnson said. “We know it is going to be a long hard road for her. But we’re going to be here for her.”
Kylee is active with Future Farmers of America and 4-H, and the day after the crash, Lea Tharp, Sydney Johnson and Hannah Glaser — all members of Central Linn FFA — painted a tribute on the large rock outside the school to honor Kylee and her siblings. Now, the rock has turned into a memorial for the family and it remains covered with flowers and cards.
Traditionally, the rock is painted over each year by the current senior class. But it will now be relocated elsewhere on the school campus and kept as a permanent tribute.
Shortly after the event started Saturday, members of the Sweet Home Fire Department arrived to pay their respects and talk with the family. Later in the afternoon, members of the Brownsville Fire Department also drove through.
The night of the crash, Jared Huenergardt, Joash Starha, Danielle Kropf, Virgil Kropf and Ryan Paul of Sweet Home Fire responded to the scene. When they heard about Saturday’s event, they knew they needed to be there to show their support. Their chief backed the idea and made sure they would be able to make it out to the tribute.
“I know we didn’t know them on a personal level,” Starha said. “But to come in and support the family and show that we care ... we wanted them to know this wasn’t just a call for us. It’s more than that.”
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